“Why is the atmosphere of life more cheerful nearer to all the horrors and ugliness of modern war than it is behind?”

Ralph Glyn had political ambitions, and the College constituency in Glasgow was being nursed for him. He had narrowly lost the 1910 election to a Liberal (he was a Conservative/Unionist). While serving in the army he delivered a lengthy statement to those he viewed as future constituents. Unfortunately for him and all his work, the constituency was abolished before the 1918 election. The paper itself, however, is an interesting insight into the views of an intelligent officer into attitudes at home and at the front.

GHQ
MEF
November 1915

I have been asked by one or two friends in the College Division to write a letter that may be a link between so many old friends of those former days, when Peace was not understood, and myself. To do this as I would wish by personal letter my work here will not allow. I must ask everyone who reads these lines to believe how sincere are my wishes for as happy a New Year as these days permits to be theirs.

I write these lines because I have always been open with my friends in Glasgow, and I believe you will all understand how it is impossible to write “news”.

There are many who have been all the time in France, or in Gallipoli, whilst some have been in both theatres of operations; but there are few officers now who have not spent some time at home, either wounded, or on leave or duty, and so it is possible to take a comprehensive survey of men, matters and means.

The newspapers are the only medium between the Public and events that happen behind the veil of the censor. Letters from friends and relations pass from the Front to those at home producing for a period a clear gleam of light – sometimes too vivid – of what is fact and reality at one small point of that vague term “The Front”. The days are shortening, the winter with all its horrors is close upon us and we are all well aware that if only something could be lifted the Future would be brighter and more easy to face. To arrive at any satisfactory conclusion we must try and see things as they are – undisguised but very possibly naked and ashamed. No time should be lost in establishing both at “the front” and at “the back” a “New Feeling” based upon the firm belief that at last true bearings have been taken, the clouds have lifted and the sun seen long enough to enable the exact position of the ship to be located, and that each and all having but the one port open to them are determined, in spite of all stress of weather, to reach their destination without undue delay.

Why is the atmosphere of life more cheerful nearer to all the horrors and ugliness of modern war than it is behind? There is nothing in any trench in France or Gallipoli to equal the gloom of many a house at home. The individual man is happy when he knows he is doing “his bit” and has that feeling down his back of something worthy of accomplishment being well done. But this same feeling should animate those miners, munition-workers, ship-builders and all that other host at home, whose work is as vital to the war’s success as any gallant action in the trenches. Why is there this feeling of unrest and mistrust in so many quarters? “Out here”, be it in France or Gallipoli, this war acts in one way all the time and without variation. The Regular Army has almost ceased to exist as it was before the war. Officers and men have fallen and others have taken their place. The tradition of a great regiment holds all the new comers in its sway and the magic mantle of “esprit de corps” stirs through the new blood of the recruit, officer and man, tempering and making him part of the original stock. The Reserve ceased to exist when war began; because by our system the fighting force of the country, Regular and Reserve, were and are one and indivisible. Any gunner will tell you that had it not been for the “dug out” the new armies could not have been born. The “dug out” has much to bear from the gibes of younger men who too often assume that all “dug outs” must be musty and old, stupid and out of date, but he can console himself with the knowledge that without him the Regular serving soldiers could not have kept the machine running.
(more…)

Advertisements

“I will not join the white feather ranks”

Sydney Spencer’s anguish over what service he should enter continues in this diary entry. Gil and Stan were his younger brothers Gilbert and Stanley, art students:

Sept 4th Friday
Now, Mr Diary, how do you think I should feel if after having spent little-to-be-spared money & time on finding what I should do, & being unsuccessful too, one of these dear ladies should offer me a white feather emblem of cowardice! For a little while yesterday I felt that perhaps I did deserve one, but when all wiser & older men than myself not only said that I had done all I could but that I should only be fit for an example & could instil some of my enthusiasm into freshmen next term by joining the OTC, & that I should never be of any use as a military man, then I felt at rest. Even now I must own I am rather restless & worried. I hate to feel so utterly useless, & even working as I have done in all sorts of odd ways to do my best to help, I chafe at my position, & boil inwardly at the thought that perhaps the imputation of “cowardice” & unloyalty may be thrown at me. The whole thing is a strain upon one, & I begin to long to put a finish to the whole matter by joining, useless or not. Despite the fact that my whole future may be utterly wrecked by this terrible war, & that I shall have to look to the German Emperor & his war party (not the rest of the nation) as the cause of my future failure, if failure it be; I am thankful that I can say with clear conscience that loyal as I am to my beloved England, & eager as I am to do my last & best for her glory, still by God’s grace I am free from that dagger, sharper and more deadly than the dagger of war itself – the dagger of bitterness – how I do deplore that bitter spirit which prompts whole crowds of people to say “Germany has played a dirty game. Pay her back as she has treated us!” May the fair scutcheon of England’s fame never be smudged & dulled by our despicable actions, & may the spirit of right prevail over & rule down the hot heads of people so bitter as to make them blind to every thing clean & fair!

I have just met a man who was at Keswick. He will not think of joining the regulars, he says. He will only join if he can get a commission! Am I to be blamed if I think he might deserve a white feather? He says he has just got a schoolmaster’s job & does not feel justified in throwing it up. He thinks it too infra dig to be a regular even in a good army!

[Later that day]
Wheatley Rose & Tea Gardens
I have said goodbye to Oxford!… If I do return to Oxford, it will be a saddened Oxford. Many of her sons have gone off to fight for England. I think that some 1100 have either got commissions or joined the ranks. If such a big number as that goes from Oxford, how can the papers say that the universities are not waking up to their duty! That fellow whom I met who feels that he does not care to take anything less than a commission, rather disgusts me. If he is a specimen of what many men are like, well, men are cowards. England wants men, & she shall have me if I can get efficient enough. I will not join the white feather ranks. Cowardice shall never be written in conjunction with my name! Now I have had tea I shall get on home. I hope & almost pray that Gil & Stan have enlisted. England needs us. Let that suffice!

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/12)